When introducing characters in your novel, a great way to avoid that unsightly infodump or a huge wall of description in the text is to sprinkle in details as we meet your characters. A neat way to focus on this is to engage the reader’s senses…

  • Pepper in description and details as the story unfolds, whether through narration and dialogue. A few nods to a character’s habits or favorite things or even a glimpse of their past can be revealed through a quick conversation. “I swear, I didn’t lose the prophecy!” Maria wrings her hands in dismay, because she can’t exactly remember where she left that scroll. Ugh, just like when she lost half of her uncle’s sheep. Then later in a different scene– possibly when there’s time for introspection, Maria can recall more about her childhood and her affinity for misplacing things.
  • Alternate between general and particular details to give a reader a sense of someone without overwhelming. John was a giant of a man who occasionally would eat a raw onion like an apple, perturbing the other customers.
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Are we meeting a character for the first time? What’s our narrator’s first sense of them and what they are like?

A good way to start is to describe character details with the five senses:

  • Sight. What do these characters look like? Don’t go all in at once– give a general impression like a strong jaw and wild curls and then get particular as we get to know more about the character. Throw in a few details about the color of their hair as they’re moving through an action scene, or contrast two characters in the same scene.
  • Sound. This can be interpreted in a few ways– what does your character sound like? Do they have a distinct voice? High pitched? Nasally? Gruff? Do they sing or play an instrument? How do other characters view them/ associate sounds with them?
  • Smell. Memory and scent are intrinsically tied together– your character smelling something can be a great catalyst for a strong memory, so you don’t have to pause the plot to introduce a little bit of backstory, just throw in a few sentences about what your character associates with this scent and what it means. Scent can also be an interesting way to describe other characters– as compelling, attractive, positive or negative.
  • Taste. Does your character have a favorite food? Do they experience new things in the story and taste things for the first time– what kind of opinions do they have on these new tastes? Do they kiss anyone? Describe a kiss not just in terms of action but in taste and feel– see next point.
  • Touch. Physical sense is a great way to get a feel for a character. Do they have an aversion to touch? Do they like hugging? Throw in details that suggest tangibility to bring this person to life– what their hair feels like, how rough or soft their skin is.

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